Dietary Protein 101: How Important Is It?

No other nutrient affects you as much as protein does. Be it the processes in your cells or the key functions of the human body, you can bet on it that protein has a huge role.

What are Proteins?

Protein is one of the three macronutrients – the nutrient you have to take in larger amounts compared to vitamins and minerals.

Protein is found in the different parts of your body such as bones, muscles and the connective tissue that binds the two. Your hair, nails, hormones and even your DNA are entirely or partly made of protein. Proteins are also an integral component of cells. Therefore, it is not surprising to know that there are millions of unique protein molecules in our bodies.

Proteins are relatively large molecules composed of hundreds or thousands of amino acids. The body can create amino acids on its own or with the help of preexisting ones. If that is the case, you might wonder why you should still get protein from foods.

Why You Need Dietary Protein

To understand the need for dietary protein, you need to know that amino acids are not all the same.

There are 20 types of amino acids and these are grouped into three: essential, nonessential and conditional.

Nine of the 20 types are categorized as essential amino acids: the ones you have to get from food because your body is unable to form them. The nine essential amino acids are as follows:

  1. Leucine
  2. Valine
  3. Lysine
  4. Histidine
  5. Isoleucine
  6. Threonine
  7. Tryptophan
  8. Methionine+Cystine
  9. Phenylalanine+Tyrosine

Each type of amino acid performs a different role within the human body. Therefore, you are not supposed to rely only on the ones that your body can make. Additionally, if you don’t consume enough protein, you will have to compensate for it by boosting your carbohydrate and fat intake.

If you work out a lot, it’s unhealthy to just ingest more carbs and fat to meet your energy expenditure requirements. You absolutely need it not just for energy but also to repair tissues and for muscle growth. If you have a specific fitness goal right now that is related to muscle building, modifying your protein intake can help you achieve it.

What are the Best Food Sources for Proteins?

Food sources of proteins include animals, insects, plants and seafood. While fruits and vegetables seem like the healthiest foods of all, in the case of proteins, they are not the best option.

Fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and cheese are the most ideal food sources of proteins because they offer all the essential amino acids.

Beans, lentils and leafy vegetables are some of the plant-based sources of proteins for vegetarians and vegans. However, the amino acids from plant-based sources are usually lower than what animal-based sources can offer.

However, you can still satisfy all of your protein needs with protein snacks and food supplements.

Do You Really Need Protein Supplements?

The honest answer is: it depends. If you’re not working out or gunning to build muscles, and you don’t feel that you lack energy, then there’s probably no need for supplementation.

However, if you want to build muscles or you need something to counter some signs of aging, protein supplements could certainly help. It all depends on your level of activity, your lifestyle, and the kind of food you usually eat.

In addition, while you can just eat protein, protein supplements can be more convenient. You can bring them with you on the go and you can just mix them into your smoothies or drinks. Many protein supplements are also more easily absorbed by the body, as you’ll soon learn.

What are the Best Protein Supplements?

Aside from their different forms, protein supplements are also categorized based on their main ingredient. While they contain the same macronutrient, the benefits they offer may not be the same. When you shop for a protein supplement, be mindful of their main ingredient and their supposed benefits.

To get the best supplement, you need to first define what you want to achieve. If your main objective is to build and maintain muscles, the following protein supplements are your best options: whey, colostrum, and collagen.

Whey

Whey is a milk derivative that is obtained during cheese production. This protein is highly favored due to its Leucine content which is one of the essential amino acids. Moreover, the body absorbs whey proteins quicker than other proteins. Absorption is a big issue between proteins due to the large size of their molecules. But with whey, this ceases to be a problem.

Its quick absorption rate and Leucine content make whey a good recovery supplement after an intensive workout. It helps the body repair itself, improve endurance and strength, and burn fats. It is also proven to be more efficient than other supplements in promoting lean body mass. That’s why you often hear bodybuilders talk about whey supplementation in their community forums.

Colostrum

Colostrum is less known compared to whey protein. However, it’s better than whey in certain aspects. Just like whey, colostrum is also made from milk but is specifically derived from the very first milk made by goats and cows after giving birth.

Unlike whey, it’s not quickly absorbed by the body. However, colostrum supplements also restore growth factor levels in the body. This growth factor is behind the muscle development you can get from this supplement.

Collagen

Collagen is another protein that can be derived from fish, cows, pigs and chicken. Collagen supplements are known for their anti-aging benefits primarily on the skin, hair, nails and joints. Some people use collagen injections or take collagen pills to minimize the appearance of wrinkles.

Collagen is noteworthy for being the best source of glycine, a type of conditional amino acid. This amino acid has inhibitory effect that lowers the levels of cortisol in your system. Cortisol is the stress hormone that can adversely impact your testosterone levels and muscle gains. So as much as possible, you have to keep it to minimal levels in order to sustain your muscles and performance.

A study also showed that when paired with adequate workout, even older men can experience significant muscle gain and improved muscular strength.

Conclusion

A protein-rich diet and exercise can help you lose weight, build and sustain muscles, protect your joints, and enable you to recover from an injury or from a heavy workout. On top of that, proteins such as collagen can help you look younger.

If you’re having a hard time meeting your daily protein requirements because you’re working out or are too busy to prepare food, protein supplements can help. They are not just for vegetarians and vegans. Just keep in mind that supplements are just that – supplements. You still have to consume protein-rich foods along with supplements for better results.

Author bio – “Alex Eriksson is the founder of Anabolic Health, a men’s health blog dedicated to providing honest and research backed advice for optimal male hormonal health. Anabolic Health aspires to become a trusted resource where men can come and learn how to fix their hormonal problems naturally, without pharmaceuticals. Check out his guide on 50 Foods That Boost Testosterone or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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